More About Being Blind in Higher Education

Recently I published a post about my life as a blind professor. I left a lot of things out, largely because the dispiriting narrative is a long one. In effect, I was aiming to get at the major issues—lack of respect from ableist colleagues, a generalized failure to make teaching and learning environments not just accessible but welcoming, the relentless difficulties encountered in the built environment. But one important thing I left out is that I’m demoralized by how difficult it is to get any traction on whatever is meant by “inclusion” since I have to fight for every minor accommodation. If this is true for me, and I’m well known, what must it be like for younger scholars?

When I was asked to teach abroad four years ago, and
I found the city in question was not guide dog friendly, I asked for a sighted companion to keep me from getting run over or lost. The university said no.

To this day I don’t know whether I’ll ever be able to teach abroad.

When I’ve raised this issue with successive administrators they shrug.

This is what I’m talking about: the shrug. The ableist shrug.

Imagine telling a Fulbright Scholar whose work has been translated world wide that he can’t have a life saving accommodation when teaching abroad. What kind of person shrugs this off?

The trap is that by writing about these things I continue to look shrill to the very people who are accustomed to ableism’s business as usual.

I can be painted as angry. That’s another dynamic of ableism.

I’m not angry. I’m appalled.

A few years back the Philosophy Department at Syracuse held a special summer session on disability. They had no accommodations. Disabled people came and had to leave. One famous disability studies scholar departed in protest. I’ve not heard of an apology from the department. We still hold events that are disability unfriendly across the campus. Am I bad for saying so? I don’t think so. Lonely perhaps.

What gets me is this: most of the faculty with whom I work or who I meet when traveling believe disability is exotic. Inwardly they think: “isn’t it niece that we let someone like this into our domain?”

But engagement and curiosity do not happen.

Moreover, because there aren’t many disabled faculty on any campus, our struggles are lost on the majority.

Of course I say: “someday you’ll need accommodations and then you’ll thank me for putting my hand in the bees nest almost daily.”

Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

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